With the purchase of an outdoor bicycle last year, a world of possibilities has blossomed for me. My husband, Rob, and I have discovered new adventures and places to explore right in our own community. Just last week, we rode into Washington, D.C., for the first time along the Potomac River. The views were spectacular.
There was one ride last autumn that stands out in my mind. Rob and I packed up our bikes and explored a different part of the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. The W&OD is one of many former railroad, rails-to-trails corridors in the country. Rails-to-trails are frequently enjoyed by bikers, walkers, runners, rollerbladers, and more. They can get relatively crowded on beautiful days.
During the week of Thanksgiving, Rob and I packed up our bikes and traveled on a portion of the W&OD that we hadn’t seen before. We traveled far west before stopping for a break at a local brewery. I’ve come to learn that brew pubs and bike paths form a mutual symbiotic relationship.
By the time we began our return trip, the sun was beginning to sag in the sky and encounters with walkers on the trail became less frequent. Our handlebar lights lit up the narrow width of the trail as we rode into the growing darkness. At one point, I noticed a family standing next to the side of the trail; they were looking at something nearby. I was briefly puzzled… then I saw it!
A deer was standing in the thicket just to our right. As we quickly passed by, I hoped that the deer wouldn’t make any sudden moves. Shortly thereafter, another deer bounded onto the trail about 10 feet ahead of us; its short white tail lifted high in the air. The doe ran along the left side of the trail as we stayed on the right side.
My heart raced as I saw the doe look over her shoulder to check to see what was following so closely behind her. I slowed down a little as I prayed she didn’t stop quickly and turn to stand in our path, or worse, come at us head on. After what felt like several minutes, the doe jumped through the trees on our left and continued to run parallel to the trail.
Rob and I were exchanging expressions of surprise and excitement at our encounter when a larger deer came out of the trees, bounded over the trail, continued through the thicket, crossed a darkened street, and leapt over a fence into a nearby golf course. We slowed down for the approaching intersection and watched the deer run off into the distance.
Hearts pounding, we were overjoyed to have had such a special encounter at the edges of suburban life. I had seen deer along the trail before, but only in the distance. Never did I imagine that I’d be riding next to one or more for almost a mile.
Riding with the deer is not something that can be arranged; it’s not like swimming with dolphins or whale watching. Not all adventures need to be planned. Sometimes the greatest adventures are ones that are a surprise.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) can form barriers and place obstacles between you and adventure. It is much too comfortable to stay home and watch the seasons change from the safety of a window.
But leading up to my adventure with the deer, MS wasn’t my greatest challenge. A lack of self-efficacy played upon my insecurities and led to thoughts such as, “I don’t know if I can even ride a bike, much less keep up with my husband; maybe I shouldn’t bother trying.” But by respecting my actual physical limits, I rediscovered a confidence that had been forgotten. Now I’m willing to go out on my own and try something new.
Bicycling has taught me many things. I have learned to be more patient with myself. If I fall, I take the time to catch my breath before rushing to get up. If I can’t feel my legs when I stop to rest, I wait until sensation returns before I continue. It may take a long time, but I’m worth the wait. The adventure is worth the wait.
Your adventure is waiting for you. Think of something you’ve want to do but were too afraid to try. Work backward and strategize each step that can get you closer to your goal. You WILL find a place you feel confident in your skills and abilities, and that’s where you start. Someday you may just glance back over your shoulder and wonder at the crazy humans with two wheels that you never dreamed would “run” with you on the trails.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.